The ghost of Sylvia Whichcote is rumoured to be haunting Jerusalem since disturbed fellow-commoner Frank Oldershaw claims to have seen the dead woman prowling the grounds.
Desperate to salvage her son's reputation, Lady Anne Oldershaw employs John Holdsworth, author of The Anatomy of Ghosts - a stinging account of why ghosts are mere delusion - to investigate. But his arrival in Cambridge disrupts an uneasy status quo as he glimpses a world of privilege and abuse, where the sinister Holy Ghost Club governs life at Jerusalem more effectively than the master, Dr Carbury, ever could.
And when Holdsworth finds himself haunted - not only by the ghost of his dead wife, Maria, but also by Elinor, the very-much-alive master's wife - his fate is sealed. He must find Sylvia's murderer or the hauntings will continue. And not one of them will leave the claustrophobic confines of Jerusalem unchanged.
Though Andrew Taylor's riveting novel is billed as a mystery infused with a ghost story, it is considerably more literary than it might appear. The plot concerns the investigation of a murder and a ghost, but all of the characters are haunted by something - regret, failed ambition - and it is around these "hauntings" that the story revolves. As John Holdsworth investigates the oddities of Sylvia Whichcote's death, it is clear that this novel is wrestling with larger issues: Is it possible to escape the pain of the past? And how do past disappointments blind you from seeing the truth of the present? These piquant questions have broad applications as each character struggles to determine what they should hide or reveal. (Reviewed by Sarah Sacha Dollacker).
The Washington Post - Wendy Smith
Those made of sterner stuff will relish Taylor's dark and gripping tale.
The Guardian - Alison Flood
...[W]hat better way to pass the time than with a good old-fashioned ghost story? Andrew Taylor's The Anatomy of Ghosts provides just that, as grieving bookseller John Holdsworth is coerced into attempting to disprove the existence of "an alleged apparition" in a corrupt, crumbling 18th-century Cambridge college.
While the supernatural element is used more as a mechanism to weave the mystery rather than being the focus of the story, the result remains a successful piece of compelling suspense literature and sophisticated historical crime fiction.
Starred Review. [A] sophisticated period puzzle, which takes an intriguing look at the age-old question of the reality of ghosts.
Eurocrime - Amanda Gillies
If you like historical crime fiction, with a hint of the supernatural and a twist to surprise you when you think that you've worked everything out, then The Anatomy of Ghosts is the perfect book for you. Personally, I loved it!
While The Anatomy of Ghosts would appeal most to readers of historical fiction and mysteries, anyone interested in a well-plotted story exploring humanity's darker side would equally enjoy it. With flawed characters haunted by ghosts - whether actual spirits or those conjured by oppressive memories and guilt - this novel is a pleasure to read on a cold winter's night.
In Andrew Taylor's The Anatomy of Ghosts, while recovering from his ordeal, Frank Oldershaw is first held at a home for the mentally disturbed. Although the process used to treat him there seems brutal and oppressive to modern sensibilities, for the time period it was considered quite advanced and progressive.
Throughout the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and the Enlightenment, people in mental institutions were frequently subjected to horrendous conditions. Some inmates were chained to stone floors, to the walls of their cells, to the bars of a cage, or to heavy wooden trough bedsteads. This shackling was not always restricted to periods of maniacal excitement but could continue for years, sometimes for life. Chains, handcuffs, iron girdles, collars, and straitjackets were all used. Typically viewed as wild animals that had lost their reason, inmates were subjected to numerous torturous "treatments," including whipping, beating, bloodletting, shocking, starvation, irritant chemicals, and isolation.
Sophisticated, witty, and ingeniously convincing, Susanna Clarke's magisterial novel weaves magic into a flawlessly detailed vision of historical England. She has created a world so thoroughly enchanting that eight hundred pages leave readers longing for more.
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